FRESH LEEKS are so utterly delicious that giving them more than a simple treatment seems like…gilding the lily. I like to cut the long stalks lengthwise in half, and then bathe them in an aromatic brew of chicken stock and dry French vermouth. Braised this way, leeks make an elegant, mildly-onion-flavored accompaniment for roasted meat or chicken, or the Ham Steaks Dijon we made the other week. Here’s my cleaning, cutting, and braising routine:
But first, a little story: Leeks entered my world when I was 14 years old. That’s when Juliette Miller — my friend Gerald’s mother, who was from France –presented me with an armful of enormous green and white stalks, along with a recipe for Leek and Potato Soup. I made the soup, fell in love with leeks, and never looked back.
Juliette, by the way, also introduced me to crepes, and how to pronounce them. Properly, she said, they are crepps (soft “e”), not “crapes.” As in Crepes with Tuna, Tarragon, & Sauce Mornay.
But we aren’t here to discuss crepes. We’re here to discuss leeks, and how to braise them.
So please try to stay focused.
When you shop for leeks, look for those with roots intact. And when you remove the roots, make sure that you are removing only the roots. Do not cut into the white part of the stalk, or your leaves will become dislodged during cleaning (or cooking). And that’s too bad.
Although the white and light-green parts of a leek are tender, the dark green leaves are not. Consequently, cut the leaves off as pictured above. You can save them for stock, or do what I do, and compost them. This way nothing is wasted. The leaves will eventually feed your garden.
Now add just enough chicken stock to barely reach half-way up the sides of the leeks. If you have your own homemade stock, by all means use it. Otherwise, use low- (or even no-) sodium stock. The regular kind, to my well-trained taste-buds, anyway, is much too salty.
Otherwise, just cover your baking dish with its lid.
Advance preparation: Prepare the leeks up to this point, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Stove-top cooking: Bring the cooking liquid to a boil, then reduce heat, and braise at the simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Oven cooking: Set the oven rack in the lower-third position, and braise in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 30-45 minutes.
The leeks are done when the white part is fork-tender, and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Need a copy-and-paste version of the above recipe? Here goes:
Ingredients for 6 servings
3 firm leeks, preferably with roots still attached
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the dish
Kosher salt to taste
1 cup (or so) low- or no-sodium chicken stock
1 Tablespoon dry French vermouth
Minced parsley for garnish
Trim roots (and only roots — do not cut into the white part of the stalk), and cut off the dark green leaves. Slice the leeks lengthwise in half, and then rinse each half under cold running water, fanning out leaves to wash out any grit.
Place the leeks cut side down in a buttered baking dish. Add just enough chicken stock to reach half-way up the sides of the leeks. Then pour in the vermouth. Dot the leeks with bits of butter.
Cover the dish with its lid. Or, lacking a proper lid, cut out a piece of wax paper to fit over the leeks, and then seal the dish with aluminum foil.
Advance preparation: Refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Braising, oven: Bake on the lower-middle rack of a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 30-45 minutes.
Braising, stove-top: Bring the cooking to a boil; reduce heat, and braise at the simmer for 15-20 minutes.
The leeks are done when the white part is tender, and most of the cooking liquid has evaporated.
Serving – Transfer the stalks to a serving platter, arranging them cut side up. Drizzle with the braising liquid, and garnish with a handful of minced parsley. Serve while hot.
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